Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The County Fair

I'm thinking of getting a t-shirt that says, "I Survived the County Fair". Mind you, this was not my first county fair. I grew up wandering through the Pennington County Fair, picking plastic ducks out of the water, and riding the Music Fest. The fair holds a special memory for Rich and I because 28 years ago we had our very first date...and we guessed the county fair. We rode the Zipper and danced at the Grandsand Jam. I've been to the county fair.

But never like this.  Taking two families, two horses, four goats, a couple dogs plus everything you need to care for all of them to the fair…for five days…is a whole other experience.  It takes planning and endurance…not to mention a trailer, a camper, and a couple pick ups.  And don’t forget the “show clothes”.  I’m still not sure how it all came together, but it did.

Thankfully, we were parked next to the Wright County Fair Extraordinaire – our dear friend Cristine who has been doing this fair since 1981 – that’s 31 years of experience. We couldn’t have done it without her…thank you Cristine and the rest of the Nielsen gang! 

Now let me tell you…a lot more goes into the fair than I ever imagined.  I know this post is far too long, so read what you want and let the rest go, but I simply can’t help myself.  I must recap the week.  For those of you who know what it takes to show animals at the fair, this will be review.  For all you city slickers out there, this may give you a glimpse (from a rookie’s point of view) of what goes on behind the scenes in order for you to stroll through the fair barns and actually have live animals to look at.

Friday (before the fair):  Haul goats to Cristine’s to  tattoo their ears so they can be properly identified.  Learn how to show a goat.  Just another example of how helpful those Nielsen’s are when it comes to goats. 

Saturday/Sunday/Monday (before the fair):  Bathe and shave goats, bathe and trim horse, bathe and groom dog.  Shop for and prepare enough food for five days.  Yes, you read that right…shave goats.  It takes about two hours for a newbie (that would be Ashley) to shave a goat for the fair.  We have four goats…you do the math.  That’s a lot of hours buzzing goat hair.

Tuesday:  Pack camper, haul it out the fairgrounds, and park it in a field with no water, no electricity, and no shade and about 300 yards from a public restroom.  I know I may be a bit spoiled by all the luxurious campgrounds we stayed at while we were gallivanting around the country in a motorhome…but seriously…the grass was the sharpest, pokiest, stuff I’ve ever seen.  It hurt to wear flip-flops.  Was it cut hay or something?  And we backed up to a corn field that doubled as a male latrine.

Wednesday:  Pack barn including animals, hay, feed, tack, milking stand, muck cart, etc. into a horse trailer, two pick up beds, and a small SUV.  Get animals into their stalls, set up the camper and take a pack of tweenager boys to a “Combine Derby”.  Milk goats.  Crash. 

Thursday:  Get up a 4:30 am to milk goats so their udders are “tight” for the show.  Try to get back to sleep before getting up again at 6:30 am to get ready for the “Egg and Spoon” horse competition that starts at 8 am.  Wash all the goats and shave their udders so they are ready for the 6:00 goat show.  Watch the kids show their goats…and win ribbons…and state trips…and have a ball!

To tell you the truth, I cannot keep track of what all Ashley won because I’m still learning the lingo.  I know it was Reserve Grand Champion (meaning 2nd place) in market goat (Einstein) showmanship.  Daisy (our baby girl) won Champion Junior Doe.  And Nellie (our Alpine yearling milking doe) was wonderful enough to win a trip to the State Fair!  The show finished about 10:30 pm…just in time to milk the goats. 

Ashley and Abigail with their "market goats" - Einstein and Mopsy

After two days of dirt, sweat, and grime, I was finally willing to endure a public shower at the insane hour of 11:30 pm while being seranaded by a way-too-loud 80's band named "Hairball" playing at the Grandstand.  After a refreshingly cool shower, I walked back to the camper and talked Ashley into taking one too…so off we go through the pokey grass at midnight to take a cold shower. 

Friday:  Up at 5:30 am, put Ashley’s hair in a bun, put on the fancy horse clothes, and get to the horse barn  for the 4H horse show that begins at 8 am.  Ashley got Reserve Champion (2nd place) in showmanship and thought she was done for a few hours.  She went to milk the goats, but just had a feeling…and decided to check on the horse show to see where they were at…and found out she was supposed to be in the ring again for showmanship in just a few minutes (this is what happens to rookies).  She sprinted back to the camper, frantically changed into her show clothes while her dear friend Delaney (who had just laid down for a nap) flew out the door and raced to the horse barn to get the halter on Joe (the horse).  As Ashley was running away she yelled at me to bring her hat…so I grabbed it out of the car and began the first leg of a relay race running through pokey grass in flip-flops all the way to the goat barn where I handed off the baton to Isaac Neilsen who took the hat the rest of the way.  Yes, we made it in time. 

Ashley on Joe; Delaney on Gazon. 

Spent the rest of the day back and forth from the camper to the horse arena.  Clipped Macie’s nails to be ready for dog show.  A storm was brewing so we brought the tweenager boys inside the camper instead of the tent.  Our camper, with three queen beds plus the dinette and the couch, housed nine people that night…all with beds…nobody on the floor.

Saturday:  Ahhh…the weekend…time to sleep in.  Oh no you don’t!  The dog show starts at 8 am.  We got up late…and it’s suddenly COLD outside. We’ve been sweating it out for days and now we’re bundling up searching for sweatshirts and hot chocolate, but there is none to be found.  Delaney and her dog, Titus, swept the competition taking 1st place  in showmanship, rally, and obedience. Way to go, Delaney!

On the other hand, Macie was...well...distracted.  She got a blue ribbon, but her heart wasn’t in it. 

On Saturday afternoon, Robin, Cristine and I actually sat outside under the awning in lawn chairs and had chips and salsa and guacamole for a few minutes.  Sitting was a rare occasion! 

Then came the tough choice…go to the State Fair…or not.  It was not an easy decision, but in the end, Ashley decided that, though she thoroughly enjoyed the fair, she has other things she wants to accomplish this summer…and so she made the tough decision to decline the trip.

Then we were off and running again…had visitors and watched the horse show – penning or cutting or something like that and enjoyed a beautiful evening. 

Sunday:  Got up and took another shower…and it was hot this time…praise God!  Packed up the camper and had a little time to walk around before our shift at the 4H Food Stand from 2-6 pm.  We got the animals ready to go, loaded them into the trailer/pickup, cleaned the horse stalls, and left the fairgrounds at 8 pm. 

Went home and unloaded everything.  The horses were literally running around the pasture and rolling in the grass! Five days in a stall is not their cuppa tea.    They’re never in a stall.  Daisy and Einstein (baby goats) were playing and head butting – clearly happy to be home.  And we were too.

In the midst of all the preparations, the packing, the hauling, the late nights and early mornings, the shows and the long walk to the bathroom…we all agreed…we’d do it again in a heartbeat.  It was an experience we’ll never forget. 

What comes to mind in all of this is the treasure of friendships.  The fair wouldn’t hold the same appeal if we hadn’t done it with friends.  It’s the shared experiences we have the people we love that makes a lifetime of memories worth remembering.

If this blog post was being written up in small town newspaper in the early 1900’s, it would end something like this:

“A good time was had by all”.

Yes, indeed.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Everything is growing like crazy around here! 

First, I better back's been two months since our last post.  In addition to the two baby boy goats (Einstein and Mr. Tumnus), Betsy gave birth to a baby girl named Daisy.  Read more about the baby goats on Ashley's new blog.  They are growing like crazy!  And so is our milk supply!  Nellie and Betsy each produce a gallon of milk a day.

Rich built and planted a beautiful raised bed garden this spring and it is now growin like crazy too!  The cucumbers and zucchini are currently keeping us busy...zucchini bread, zucchini pancakes, and our favorite...zucchini brownies.

And let's not forget Jake's 55 chicks who are now looking more like teenagers than babies!  In fact, they should start laying eggs in about a month or so.  We have now moved them into the Chicken Palace with our original ten hens.  The RV was great for the toddler season, but we quickly realized it wasn't going to cut it.  So...we'll be remodeling the palace to accomodate the new flock.  For now, they sleep under the stars in the enclosed run on temporary roost bars.

On another note, Ashley and Jake have been growing like crazy in the way of musical theater performing in two productions this spring/summer.  Ashley played the step-mother and Jake was a citizen of the kingdom in Cindarella .

Jake played Tommy and Ashley was Eulalie in The Music Man .  So fun!

Thanks to Grandma Lana, Rich and I were able to attend The Reformation of Food and Family Conference in San Antonio, TX, last weekend.  What a blessing to be with 1,500 Christians who are excited about growing and eating the food that God created to nourish our bodies and our families.

It's been about one year since we moved to the country.  Today, we received our "Minneosta Farm Bureau" membership cards.  I just had to chuckle.  (I'm sure there are a few of you who are downright laughing:-)  What a difference a year makes.  A lot can happen.  A lot can change.  We've gone from suburbanites to wandering RV'ers to hobby farmers in just a few short years.  And through it all, God has been growing many things within each of us - hopefully a bountiful harvest of the fruit of the Spirit. 

And may each of you have the same abundant harvest in your life as you travel the journey God sets before you. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chicken RV

First, I just have to share the latest photo of the baby chick born yesterday.  Is that not just the cutest thing you've ever seen?

Bon Bon and her baby chick
And now...if you recall, Jake ordered 55 chicks this spring to start his egg business.  They arrived looking like the newborn chick above...and now, as you can see, just five weeks later they look like, well, teenagers and they are ready for the great outdoors!

The chicken palace simply isn't big enough for everyone, so Jake and Rich designed and built a "chicken tractor" - which is basically a mobile chicken coop - or to put it in Joel Salitan terms:  an egg-mobile.  The plan is to move the tractor around the yard/pasture so the hens can have fresh grass and eat bugs to their hearts content - and thus provide us and others with super nutritious pastured eggs.  And so, let me present to you...The Chicken Tractor....

This mobile coop has 16 beautiful nest boxes with a door that lifts up in the back to gather the eggs.  It also comes complete with roosting bars and a predator-proof hardware cloth floor in addition to wheels that flip down when it needs to be moved.  The solar powered electric netting fence you see in the background keeps the chickens safe during the day as they free-range around the yard.  At night they go into the coop to roost and sleep, safe and sound.

Here's what the coop looks like inside:

Jake and Rich did a beautiful job, put in many long hours, and learned alot in the process which will come in handy since they need to build another one. One is fine for now, but as the chickens grow they will need more room to spread their wings...and lay their eggs. This may not be quite like the backyard palace our original flocks inhabits, but then again, we're sort of into the RV thing, ya know :-) If we can do it, so can our birds!

Speaking of RV's...we sold our big motorhome and bought a spiffy little camper on Criagslist that will serve us nicely for weekend trips - and more importantly - the county fair...but that's another story for another day.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Another Bendickson Baby

Another new little life made its way into the world today!
New baby chick emerging from shell
Bon Bon and Buttercup brooding their eggs
As you can see, we now have TWO broody hens. When Bon Bon "went broody", she climbed into the next box with Buttercup and tried to sit on the eggs too. So Jake moved some of the eggs to another box and she's been happily brooding them ever since. In fact, Bon Bon got the honor of having the first chick hatch. 

They are sitting on about 18-20 eggs total.  Given the fact that we only supplied them with 9 fertile eggs, there is bound to be some dissapointment in the nesting box.  Hopefully we see a few more feathered friends pecking their way into the world tomorrow.  We left the baby with its mama all snug and cozy and cute. 

More chicken news to come tomorrow...those 55 chicks are now looking more like teenagers...stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A day in the life of a homeschooling mom

A couple days ago one of our Buff Orpington hens "went broody".  Another new term for this wanna-be farm girl to learn.  Of course, my 12 year old educated me.  It means the hen is sitting on eggs...all day...just sitting there in the nest box trying to "brood" two eggs.  The problem is they will never hatch.  Why?  Because we don't have a rooster. 

The next day Jake devises a plan:  Let's get some fertile eggs so she can sit on eggs that WILL hatch.  "Please mom? Please?"  Well, let's see, we have 10 full grown chickens living in a chicken palace.  And 55 two-week-old chicks living in our shop with no where to go...yet.  The last thing we need is more chickens.  But how can we pass up an opportunity to witness a mother hen hatching eggs right in our backyard?  How can we deny her an opportunity to have fruit for all her labor?  Yes, we must get some fertile eggs. 

So, I tell Jake...if you want to get some eggs, you'll need to email Jack at True Cost Farm and ask him if we can come out and get some eggs this morning (after all, this isn't just a science experiment, it's got writing lesson written all over it too.)  So Jake emails Jack and out we go to get eggs. 

Jack and his brother-in-law were incredibly gracious - even showed us how to "candle" the eggs to look for cracks.  When we got home, Jake stole the infertile eggs right out from under Buttercup and replaced them with 9 beautiful fertile eggs.  If all goes well, we may have some brand new babies to watch in about 21 days. 

And, perhaps, we will have a bird's eye view to see more of who God really is as we witness how this mother interacts with her chicks...just like Jesus said in Matthew 23:37 often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings...

Thank you, Lord, for the unique opportunities you provide for us to learn about You.  And thank you for the sense of wonder you put within each of us that draws us to discover more about the world you created.  Amen.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Introducing Ashley's new blog!

Hey everyone...just want to let you know that Ashley started a blog called Square Root Farms and posted her first entry today.  Check it out at: 

Also, if you're interested in learning how to make a simple whole wheat loaf of bread, I just posted an entry on my Cafe Diasozo blog with a video that we made back in our RV days.  Here's the link:

And sister and I got to celebrate with our Grandma Gustie last week - she's 100 years young and still going strong!  Happy Birthday, Grandma!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Baby Chicks

At 6:30 am on Saturday the phone rang.  It was the post office calling to inform us that "our chicks are in."  No sleeping in today!  Jake has been looking forward to this for many weeks.  He researched the breeds and placed his order and finally the day arrived!  Would you like to see what a box of 54 chicks (with 14 different breeds) looks like? 

Eggs anyone?  If you live in the area and would like to buy all natural pasture-raised eggs when the hens start laying next fall, just let us know.  Jake is starting an egg business.

On a side note...still waiting for Betsy to have her baby goat...sometime this week!